Pereira Can Shine in La Liga

This summer has seen an exciting influx of world-class talent to Old Trafford with high profile signings you needn’t be reminded of. With that, the club has naturally been forced to part ways with some of their younger talent; some on loan and some permanent. Focusing on Andreas Periera, fortunately, the club has only loaned the talented Brazilian midfielder to Spanish side Granada for one season, in a loan move that was perhaps long awaited with the crafty playmaker looking to finally secure some much needed playing time.

The transfer arrives with an air of disappointment from some fans who had hoped to see the academy graduate display his ability and develop this season under the ranks of Jose Mourinho. But the actuality is: Pereira is at a stage in his development where playing football regularly at a high level is integral; something he would be unlikely to receive at Old Trafford this campaign at least.

At Granada, Pereira is gifted with a chance to make a real statement in one of Europe’s elite leagues, playing against some of the best players in the world. If he performs, he is likely to hold a starting position at a club that is in need of attacking creativity this season. It is an opportunity for the midfielder to make a statement of intent, a chance to showcase his talents on a more realistic and accessible platform than the Premier League perhaps is this season with his parent club possessing a number of talents already in his position.

His new club, Granada, have seen a busy this summer with new manager Paco Jemez overhauling the squad with a total of 18 new signings. Having also secured the loan of talented La Masia graduate Sergi Samper from Barcelona and bringing prolific striker Alberto Bueno back to La Liga from Portugal, the club seems to be in an ambitious mood this summer, with various youngsters on loan and other permanent additions who will be looking to achieve the same goal as Pereria, developing and playing regular football.

The club finished 12th last season and will be excited by the prospect of welcoming such exciting young talents, albeit on loan, but in deals that will ultimately be mutually beneficial. Periera will most likely be given the opportunity to find his most comfortable position in midfield, having dabbled in various positions from attacking and centre midfield to the wing but now the Brazilian will be looking to lock down a position this season and make it his own.

Periera’s potential has been clear for all United fans to see, mostly with his contribution to the reserves side but also the glimpses of class shown when he has been granted with rare minutes in the First Team. La Liga models a style of football that should theoretically suit the Brazilian’s style of play with the physical side of football not as present compared to the English leagues, something a slightly built player will be able to utilise. Though, there is that argument where the player would perhaps benefit more playing in a lower division in England getting accustomed to the velocity and intensity of the Premier League, with the Championship always being a popular destination for top tier sides to send out youth. However, you cannot argue with the level of quality La Liga boasts with some of the most creative and technically gifted individuals in the game.

Whilst loan moves have not necessarily been overly successful for United players in the past, this season poses as an opportunity for Andreas Pereira to demonstrate his sheer ability and quality on a consistent level, with a view to hopefully return to Old Trafford a more seasoned and refined midfielder.

 

 

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Has China Become a World Football Superpower?

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In March 2013, Xi Jinping assumed the presidency of the Republic of China. As he began his reign, one of his objectives was to develop the world’s most popular sport.

The sport in mind was of course football, a pastime in which the Chinese arguably had not excelled or developed in on a global scale, yet with a reinforced lease of passion for the game, that idea could be about to change as they begin to make their mark on today’s modern footballing world.

On Friday 5th February 2016, ambitious Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning, announced the 38.4 Million pound signing of Alex Teixeira from Shakhtar Donetsk, breaking the league’s record for transfers for the third time in just over a week. High profile arrivals such as Fredy Guarin, Gervinho, Ramires and most recently Ezequiel Lavezzi have boldly showed the intent of the Chinese to become a world superpower in the sport of football, but have they been successful?

Following the mass exodus of stars to Asia, most football fans would argue the case that the Chinese have a long way to go before they can be considered a major destination for professional football.

However, signing notable, marque players appears to be the start of the Chinese Super League’s assertive plans and it has undeniably caught the attention of the rest of the world, but they are not the first of the more obscure leagues to do so: in recent times, various countries have invested into the multi-billion pound football industry.

Nations such as Russia, Qatar and even India have lured established footballers away from the competitive European leagues, albeit some past their best. However, with China, it is different: January saw the arrival of a substantial influx of star individuals, very much at the height of their game and therefore not necessarily in pre-retirement mode, as many stars tend to be travelling to destinations such as the United States or Australia.

China’s ability to entice players such as Jackson Martinez, who had barely arrived in Madrid before signing for Guangzhou Evergrande, Turkish hotshot Burak Yilmaz to Beijing Guoan and Jiangsu Suning’s incredible coup of snatching Alex Teixeira ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool is fascinating. Yet ultimately there was one rule that aided such signings, and that was money, and using it wisely.

Furthermore, it is not just the players the Super League has prized away, with familiar managers such as Luiz Felipe Scolari, Dan Petrescu and Sven-Goran Eriksson applying their trade in China.

It also is not the first time they have attempted to start a dynasty with foreign footballers; tempting the likes of Drogba, Anelka, Kanoute and Dario Conca to name a few. Though the former three lasted little time compared to Conca, whilst arguably edging towards the end of their careers, which are circumstances quite different compared to the individuals who have moved this winter.

But it has not always worked: football fans have seen the rise and fall of ambitious clubs and leagues, such as Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala who failed to emulate the clever investments of overseas stars as fellow Russian club Zenit St Petersburg have done.

And it should not be forgotten how clubs in the Far East have also famously snared their fair share of icons with Xavi, Raúl, Gabriel Batistuta and Asamoah Gyan (now playing in China) all moving east. Though the lack of overall quality in the leagues continues to be an issue.

Though for China it could be different, the nation is enriched with a president who is keen to put his country on the footballing map, with an extensive plan of playing football to the standards of the rest of the world and one day perhaps even going the distance at a World Cup. They have the resources, they appear to be preparing the development and grass-roots of the game, but do they have the enthusiasm, will and desire to one day make the Chinese Super League a place where footballers choose to play football due to competitiveness rather than the lucrative wages?

Only time will tell, but what China are doing now is undoubtedly admirable and bold as they continue to snatch away talented footballers from Europe’s elites, and for now, they surely have to be considered a club football superpower, but whether it is sustainable or not is another question.

 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobMFriend

 

Real Oviedo: The Club Represented in Every Corner of the World

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In the province of Asturias, Northern Spain, lies the Estadio Carlos Tartiere in the city of Oviedo. A stadium that boasts around 30,000 passionate fans from all over the world on a regular Segunda Division match day. Spirits are high as the team continues to fight to the top of the table in a bid to return to the wonderland that is La Liga. It is a promising time for an Oviedista, but it could have been a very different story.

The deadline was November 2012, an undesirable situation to say the least. With an almighty task ahead, very little time and few ideas, the club frantically pondered and contemplated for a solution to save a club that was on the brink of something quite disastrous the for the city, players and most of all, fans.

The club had been in the awkward second division B: a league that is essentially a third division but conducted with four different sub divisions that all connect with a play-off; not the easiest of divisions to arise from. However, the board had bigger problems; the club needed huge sums of money to secure the present and near future of the club, let alone the future as a whole.

Speaking with the Real Oviedo Supporters’ Trust owner and manager Matías Garcia Fernandez, who spoke of the scenario and anxiety of the Oviedistas in that tough time: “We were at two weeks to be out of business, we needed some kind of miracle really”.

A miracle was needed, and a miracle arrived in the shape of the most important people of all: the fans. The club decided to propose a share issue open to the general public, offering single shares at affordable prices, but the club needed exposure, global exposure. Matías of ROST described one man in particular as initiating the start of something quite beautiful for the club: “In 2012, there was a person who planted the seed that made this club global: Sid Lowe.”

Self-confessed Oviedista and Madrid-based journalist, Sid Lowe played an invaluable role in the clubs resurrection and resurgence that is appreciated all over the city. Matías described Lowe’s role by saying: “The tweet Sid Lowe wrote on November 2012 started something that made us worldwide, people all around the world were involved”.

Social media has played an important role; in the last few years players with deep connections with the club such as Michu, Santi Cazorla, Adrian Lopez and Juan Mata, all have been pivotal in the campaign to save the club by personally purchasing shares and publicising to their significantly extensive audiences. “Without social media, this wouldn’t have happened” the ROST founder explained.

The club was saved. With majority shares owned by the fans from Oviedo and from all over the world, and a significant share from one of the worlds richest men, Carlos Slim, a hugely successful Mexican businessman, but the salvation of the club was just the beginning. Last season Real Oviedo made the almighty and unpredictable leap into the promise land, well, the closest step to the promise land that is, with the promotion to the Liga Adelante (Spanish second division), one division away from the heights of La Liga. An incredible achievement and unforeseeable progression that supporters perhaps never would have believed considering the undesirable situation back in 2012.

In 2015, the club released more shares available to the public. The club now boasts over 30,000 shareholders from over 190 countries, surely making Real Oviedo one the worlds most unique clubs with quite a beautiful story to tell along the way. But for Oviedo, the club has always been about the fans: “Real Oviedo has been a fan-based club for ages, we saved the club in 2003 when the council wanted club to disappear, fans didn’t allow it” Matías speaking on behalf of passionate Oviedistas. Today the Carlos Tartiere stadium is greeted by shareholders from the most unexpected of locations.

In the last three years, Matías has met approximately 800 people from over the world: “Australia, Singapore, Japan and USA [to name a few], local fans show them their smile and share some drinks, this is Real Oviedo”.

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(Matías with Aki from Japan)

 
On the 30th January 2016, Real Oviedo’s players departed the Tartiere off the back of a 1-1 draw against league leaders Alavés, leaving the side from Asturias at an incredible fourth place position in the league, and after what the fans have been through, they are enjoying it, and rightly so. Ultimately, there is a clear, underpinning reason for the club’s recent success and happiness and that very much relates to the pride and diligence of the fans, as Matías García mentions: “They are part of this big family. The feeling of belonging becomes strong when they come here because, as Michu said, Real Oviedo is a club like no other”.

 

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(Pictures courtesy of Matías Garcia)

 

 

By Robson Friend (shareholder)

@RobMfriend

 

La Liga’s Shining Stars So Far

BILBAO, SPAIN - OCTOBER 26: Aritz Aduriz of Athletic Club reacts during the La Liga match between Athletic Club and Real Sporting de Gijon at San Mames Stadium on October 26, 2015 in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
BILBAO, SPAIN – OCTOBER 26: Aritz Aduriz of Athletic Club reacts during the La Liga match between Athletic Club and Real Sporting de Gijon at San Mames Stadium on October 26, 2015 in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

With the 2015/2016 La Liga season in full swing, it is worth taking a look at the players that have risen into current star status. Focusing on the competitors filling the stats sheets with their admirable attacking displays, or simply the players who continue to cement themselves as the top attacking players in Spain.

Every year the league is graced by familiar goal-scorers and playmakers who we all know too well. Carrying his teams mantle in the goal-scoring department, Cristiano Ronaldo has started accordingly with eight goals already to his name. With his injury, Messi’s mantle however, has been carried spectacularly by the duo of Luis Suarez and Neymar who are occupying the first and second place positions in the race for the Pichichi, with an impressive 20 goals between them.

But perhaps it is not the usual and expected high profile performers who have impressed La Liga observers the most in the final third of the pitch. Here is a few players who have gracefully stepped onto the scene to make a claim to the public as to why La Liga is much more than just Messi & Ronaldo, or perhaps Suarez & Neymar as it may seem now:

Nolito (Celta Vigo)
With seven goals and four assists to his name, Manuel Agudo Durán or just Nolito as we know him, has been one of the success stories so far of La Liga. So much so that his old club Barcelona have been credited with a keen interest in bringing him back to Les Corts. Those who have watched the winger regularly will tell you he has been very good for awhile now, but with important goals and assists stacking up this season, people are starting to take notice of the ex Benfica starlet’s abilities.

Borja Bastón (Eibar)
La Liga’s dubious player of the month award was announced this week: surely it belonged to Luis Suarez or Neymar? It was not the case. A 23 year old, Borja Bastón of Eibar snatched the award. With six goals to his name, on-loan (Atletico Madrid) Bastón is leading the line for a club that is enjoying an unexpected but impressive sixth place position, thanks to this man’s fine form with a goal in every fixture of the month of October for the Basque side.

Imanol Agirretxe (Real Sociedad)
It was hardly shock of the season but David Moyes was eventually relieved of his duties in San Sebastián, but you could not argue against experienced striker Agirretxe’s case for doing his utmost to help the Scotsman. With a hat-trick against a struggling Granada, the striker offered Moyes with a life-line. Furthermore adding 8 goals in total this season, the man who has spent his whole senior career at La Real is having a resurgent season.

Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao)
Snubbed again by la Selección, Aduriz, 34, could not possibly do more to draw attention from Vicente Del Bosque. As the national team prepare themselves for a match against England in Alicante, Aduriz misses the call up. Season after season, Aduriz provides his club with a healthy amount of goals and this season is no different. An exciting Athletic Bilbao side with the help of new signing Raul Garcia who seems to be involved in everything the Basque side does, Aritz Aduriz is leading his line with experience and quality, again.

Lucas Pérez (Deportivo La Coruña)
At the age of 27 and with a curios route back to La Liga that saw him play in Ukraine and Greece upon leaving Vallecano, Peréz seems to be finding his feet in La Coruña. His second season in blue and white stripes and what a season he is having: seven goals to his name in 11 from the wing, including an unbelievable goal at the Riazor against Bilbao a few weeks ago. If Deportivo are to have a successful season this year, they will no doubt look to Pérez for moments of brilliance.

Javi Guerra (Rayo Vallecano)
With 9 appearances, Javi Guerra has added 8 goals to his tally already this season. After four respectable years at Valladolid, Guerra was signed by Cardiff City, where he played just three games. Back in Spain and seemingly rejuvenated, Rayo Vallecano will rely on this man to come up with the goods this season as well as help from Ex United man, Bebe who seems to finally be demonstrating some of the promise that clubs before failed to see.

Honourable mentions:

Back in La Liga after a swift stint in the Liga Adelante, Andalusia’s Real Betis have started reasonably well. On the attacking front it is thanks to veteran goal-scorer Rubén Castro who adds to the notion that certain strikers really do age like fine wine, having netted seven times thus far.

On loan from Barcelona, and enjoying his football, Alen Halilovic is having a fine season in Gijón. The Croatian providing his club with both goals and assists and simply posing as one of the leagues great young talents to watch with his elastic skill and close ball control.

Staying with the youngsters: Iñaki Williams of Athletic Bilbao is also displaying great potential and form with four goals and an assist to his name already, including that spectacular goal at the weekend against Espanyol. San Mamés patrons think they have another local star in their hands and will be hoping this one will not be prized away too early.

As the international break passes, it will be intriguing to see whether these talents can continue to help their teams progress. Continuing on with their impressive form going forward into December, or if they will simply be outshone by the resurgence of other inspired players who are yet to find their feet in this current exhilarating La Liga season. Only time will tell but for now the league has much to look forward to for the rest of the season.

Millwall 2-0 Doncaster Rovers

Morison Mauls Rovers at The Den

Friend, R. 2015. The Den.
Friend, R. 2015. The Den.

Steve Morison earned a first-half brace as Millwall comfortably dispatched a lacklustre Doncaster Rovers side 2-0 at The Den.

The game could have been over after 30 minutes as Morison fired twice within just 8 minutes of football. But Millwall permitted Doncaster with the opportunity to be involved in the game as Rovers made a second half surge at a comeback, that ultimately amounted into nothing more than a continuation of half-hearted and idea-less attacks.

With barely five minutes of football played, Morison found himself through on goal with only the Doncaster keeper, Thorsten Stuckmann to beat, and beat he did. As Morison’s strike deflected off the keeper and trickled into the net, Millwall lead 1-0.

A mere three minutes later and an loanee Shane Ferguson from Newcastle found Steve Morison with a fine cross to set up the Welshman who responded with a classy volley that directed the ball into the bottom corner. 2-0 it was and it seemed as so the floodgates had opened.

It was not the case, Doncaster hit back with a flurry of more than convertible chances that were essentially thrown away by the trio of Butler, Coppinger and Tyson. Chances that Darren Ferguson’s side would end up ruing by the full-time whistle.

It could have been the perfect response as Nathan Tyson whipped in a great cross for Andy butler who somehow headed over from point-blank range. Shortly after, it was Tyson’s turn as he steered the ball wide of the target from just five yards.

When Doncaster attacked, Millwall reaped the benefits. As the Yorkshire side rallied helplessly forward for a way back into the game, the defense continued to be left exposed on the counter, something Morison found on many occasions as he failed to convert several uncomplicated opportunities, unable to progress from his two strikes already.

Steve Morison seemed determined enough to grab his hat-trick that quite realistically should have been completed sometime before the first-half whistle was blown, but it did not arrive for the ex Norwich man.

The second half arrived and if Millwall had not taken their foot off the gas after the second goal, then they most certainly did by the second half had arrived. As an albeit only slightly but surely more confident and open-minded Doncaster side challenged for a goal back.

Tyson came close twice: a header that flew inches wide of Archer’s post and an agonisingly close opportunity as he failed to get on the end of an exceptional Taylor-Sinclair cross.

The 195 travelling Doncaster fans watched on as their side continued to probe at an entry, but Neil Harris’ side were more than adept at keeping them at bay.

As the game slowly whittled away from Ferguson’s side it became very simple for Millwall to run down the clock whilst finding themselves with their fair share of goal-scoring opportunities.

A cross from the returning Carlos Edwards found Morison with yet another perfect chance to sew up the game and take the match ball, but it was not to be as Stuckmann met the header to prevent the third.

Whilst Darren Ferguson allowed ex Millwall man, Danny N’Guessan to enter the fray, all the striker was able to accomplish in 30 minutes was to be subjected to the expected and routine negative chanting from the Lions’ fans.

On the other side Neil Harris was able to bring on Webster, Onyedinma and product of Manchester United, Lee Martin to enter the pitch and wrap up the tie for the South-East Londoners.

The Lions left The Den ascending into the sixth place position joint with Sheffield United. But Neil Harris however will be conscious of his side failing to score more than two goals, as his side threw away an abundance of brilliant chances to put the game far beyond Doncaster’s reach.

The Rovers however, a team who stay sat nervously in the bottom four without ideas and confidence, waiting for their season to lift off.

Twitter – @Robmfriend

Doumbia the Man to Watch at the Arena Khimki Tonight

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Zero degrees with a potential low of -4º as the evening progresses, but it is not just the temperature that the Manchester United players will feel the pressure from as they face an in-form, confident and ready CSKA Moscow side in Russia’s capital this evening.

The Russian outfit are coming into this evening’s game sitting proudly at the top of the Russian Premier League, reasonably comfortably as well with side yet to lose a game despite already facing fierce title challengers: Zenit and city rivals: Dynamo and Spartak.

One player who can be credited to the recent success is the return of Seydou Doumbia, who albeit left for just a season as he cut short his stay in Rome to return to the place he calls home.

With six starts, the Ivorian has already marked up five goals and five assists having already netted twice in the UEFA Champions League. Doumbia, on loan from AS Roma, suffered a lackluster year in Serie A will be looking to bounce back and rekindle his best form that earned him the exposure to some of Europe’s top clubs, what better way to do so than playing against Manchester United tonight.

Van Gaal will have no doubt addressed his defenders on the abilities of the Ivorian, however CSKA will have other means of attack in the form of Nigerian starlet Ahmed Musa who is seeming to be slowly but surely improving each season in Russia with six goals already to his name. With Russian international, Alan Dzagoev pulling the strings in midfield and not to mention ex United man himself: Zoran Tosic, who will be looking to prove a point against the club who decided to sell the skillful Serbian.

In the city that Manchester United will have fond memories of, they will arrive with confidence and determination to take something from a game perhaps not quite as important as the task back then at the Luzhniki Stadium but an important step in the progression of qualifying nonetheless.

United fans will be hoping Louis Van Gaal rewards his efficiently brilliant Spaniard, Ander Herrera with another starting place. After his terrific performance at the weekend, the midfielder from the Basque Country could be the key to the Reds’ first away win in the Champions League proper since Leverkusen in 2013, if you do not count Brugge that is.

A Stroll Through the Once Electric Olympic Park

Friend, R. 2015. Olympic Park
Friend, R. 2015. Olympic Park

After the immensely successful 2012 Olympics had ended, the Olympic Park sat in the heart of East London, finds itself becoming merely an expensive wasteland. It more or less serves as a location for a nostalgic hub for visitors who had attended the Olympics, or maybe for those who missed the chance and feel the need to get a sense of the occasion that was by taking a tour around the park.

It was on taking one of these walking tours around the area of the Olympic Park in Stratford, that it becomes quickly apparent just how deserted and lacklustre the area really is. We walk through the upper part of the bustling Westfields shopping mall onto the path towards the Olympic Stadium. It gradually becomes quieter as we leave behind the crazy shoppers filling up their Primark baskets with items they probably do not need. We then pass the Aquatic Centre where athletes such as Michael Phelps gracefully took part in their particular events with the American achieving an incredible four medals in various swimming events. However past the echoes of the past it is instantly evident that the area is effectively deserted barring the odd worker or tourist. Further on from the Aquatic Centre we find the famous much-talked about Olympic Stadium, still under re-construction for its changed purpose as football stadium. It therefore offers very little to those visiting the park, besides an outside view of a beautifully designed Olympic stadium but with a massive crane poking up and out of the middle.

However the crane sat in the middle of stadium could be considered as a sign for something new and maybe the beginning of the parks resurgence as Premier League football club West Ham United are scheduled to move in and call the Olympic Stadium their new home as of the 2016/2017 season. Lots has been made of this decision related to footballing aspects with the stadium not being considered as a conventional English football ground with its running track and incredibly distant view from pitch to the stands, none the less the football club will surely bring a new lease of life to what is seemingly a disappointingly dire tourist attraction that is surviving simply by its Olympic legacy left just two years ago.

After the Olympic Stadium, you will then stroll over to The Copper Box, another building that most Londoners barely know exists, or at least not aware of what goes on in the building. The building currently serves as the home of British basketball team London Lions and also serves as a home for a handball team, which of course is a sport Brits do not exactly rush to attend sadly for handball enthusiasts and partakers.

Finally we finish at the immensely successfully and historic arena that is the Velodrome, for Chris Hoy at least. Just like the other arenas visited in the park, walking into the building it is evident again that the arena sadly is not used to its full potential as the thousands of seats are occupied by twenty to thirty tourists coming to see what all the fuss was about back in 2012, but of course the fuss has since disappeared and the arena is simply used for cyclists to train for upcoming events.

After completing the group tour, I decided to head back for one last glimpse at the Olympic Stadium and to see whether the ludicrously pricey Arcelormittal Orb (tall sculpture with viewing deck) offered a form of discount, only to come across one man visiting the Park from the United States, clearly unfazed by the establishment, mentioning “It feels like a ghost town”, adding “compared to when I was here for the games, it was electric” as he wondered around the park, bemused by the sights, or lack of.

But what did the American tourist expect? Is this what we expect to see when visiting an Olympic park? Perhaps not, but maybe it’s the visitors who are naive enough to assume that a once bustling and hectic park during the actual Olympics would still be a sight to see in all its glory. The reality is different, very different and it becomes clear that the purpose for the Olympic Park and its inhabited arenas is now to serve as a home for those who wish to develop and strive forward in their chosen sports, not to mention the East Village housing and current building and planning for future homes promising to bring the Park back to life in the future. But all negativity aside, it may well be deserted and inactive but the facilities are world class and it may well be the key to our future athletes’ success in years to come as more continue to help bring the arena to life.